This is my favorite time of the season, when the playoff picture is starting to come into focus. Most of the time we have a solid idea on who is the favorite as we prepare to enter the postseason, but this year it just doesn’t feel that way. There are a few teams at the top of the totem pole: Dallas, New England and the top half of the AFC West, but none of the 4 are intimidating enough to feel like they can’t be beat.
There’s a lot at stake here over the next three weeks, so let’s take a look at what could possibly shake, starting with the AFC.
AFC Standings as of Now
AFC Division Leaders:
Patriots (10-2) – (BAL, @DEN, NYJ, @MIA)
Chiefs (10-3) – (TEN, DEN, @SD)
Steelers (8-5) – (@CIN, BAL, CLE)
Titans (7-6) – (@KC, JAX, HOU)
Raiders (10-3) – (@SD, IND, @DEN)
Dolphins (8-5) – (@NYJ, @BUF, NE)
In the Hunt:
Broncos (8-5), Texans (7-6), Ravens (7-5), Colts (6-7), Bills (6-7)
AFC’s Most Likely Scenario: Pats lock up 1-seed
With the Chiefs knocking off Oakland on Thursday, the Patriots are in control of the 1-seed. With 3 legitimate obstacles in the way of them finishing the season 14-2, the team most likely to hand them an L would be the Ravens as Denver’s struggling offense won’t be able to match what NE can do even without Gronk. While the Patriots aren’t as menacing as once thought, they are still the team to beat in the AFC. It would behoove Oakland and Kansas City to get that 1-seed if they can, so pretty much every AFC West fan will be a Ravens fan Monday night.
Should NE take the 1-seed, the Chiefs will probably lock up the 2, but they’ll have a grueling 3-game stretch to get through if they want to hold onto it. The Titans will roll into town trying to retain their AFC South lead next week and then they’ll have two division games to close out the season.
The Steelers have a manageable schedule, needing to beat Baltimore in Week 16 to all but wrapup the North. Too many losses on the docket to realistically aim for a bye-week, so the winner of the AFC North is essentially locked into the 3-spot as the South’s winner will likely be 9-7. Speaking of the South, the Titans are currently in control and are the hottest team in the division, the only issue for them is that they roll into Kansas City next week. The Chiefs might be the first team to cause a Mariota Redzone INT. If the Titans survive KC, lock them in as the South’s champion. They get to seal the deal week 17 against Houston.
The Wildcard is the most interesting part of this race. Whoever is second in the AFC West will get a spot unless KC or OAK drop 3 straight, which is unlikely, so that locks the 5-seed. The six seed is the race to keep an eye on: Denver barely holds it and Miami has a shot at it, however, Tannehill is out and Matt Moore aka Swag Moore aka Captain Paycheck will have to handle the reigns the rest of the way. It’s possible. Miami is a great team whose running game has really come on during the back half of the season, and the defense, while not intimidating, will put pressure on you consistently. The only problem is Miami has nothing but division games down the stretch, including New England to end the season. The plus side to this is that Miami COULD theoretically win the division if the Patriots go 1-3 to finish the season and Miami wins out. Denver’s offense is currently lacking, I’m not sure if they can hold onto the 6th seed, and I don’t think Miami will take it either, it’ll likely go to 2nd place in the AFC North.
AFC’s Possible Scenario: The Chiefs or Raiders lock up the 1-seed
To earn the 1-seed, Chiefs must: finish with 1 more win than New England
To earn the 1-seed, Raiders must: Win out, NE lose 1, KC lose 1
AFC’s Probable Scenarios:
Texans and Titans both in: For this to happen, both TEN and HOU must win out until their final game. Baltimore must lose 3 of their final 4.
Bills sneak in, Rex Ryan saves his job: Bills must win out, Texans or Titans lose 2 of 3
AFC Unlikely Scenarios:
Titans or Texans get 2-seed: TEN or HOU wins out, NE loses out (if NE wins tonight, this scenario dies), BAL’s only remaining win must come against PIT, Week 16. PIT cannot finish better than 9-7.
Dolphins get 1-seed, Broncos get 2-seed: MIA must win out, NE must lose 3 of the last 4, KC and OAK must lose out. PIT and BAL cannot finish better than 10-6. This would give Denver the 2-seed and cause the Raiders to MISS the playoffs at 10-6.
#1. New England (13-3)
#2. Kansas City (13-3)
#3. Pittsburgh (11-5)
#4. Tennessee (9-7)
#5. Oakland (12-4)
#6. Baltimore (10-6)
Leaving our wildcard weekend matchups as:
#6 Baltimore @ #3 Pittsburgh
#5 Oakland @ #4 Tennessee
We’ll take a look at the NFC next!